The American Dream is dead -- for many native-born Americans, anyhow.
You remember the American Dream. It was the hope that everyone can get ahead in America, that your kids will attain more prosperity than you.
It was the certitude that in America, anyone is free, with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The dream was alive and well when I was a kid in the '70s. Despite a rough economic patch then, most everyone I ever knew dreamed of starting his or her own business.
My mother had a million ideas and tried many of them. My father regretted not buying out his uncle's hardware store -- he liked his job and worked hard, but never attained the freedom of the self-made man.
I started my own business as soon as I could mow lawns. By my junior year in high school, I was making considerable money -- and had four employees -- rebuilding stone retaining walls.
America's restless, hopeful entrepreneurial spirit made our country great -- but it is dying now. Its death is made clear by the growing list of people who expect the president, through some government program, to hand them their "American Dream."
Though presidents like to promise such things, not one president ever delivered it -- not one president ever can or will. The American dream can be pursued only by the individual and through sheer initiative. What we call the American spirit.
That spirit is alive and well, though not so much among native-born Americans.
No, the American spirit lives in the hearts of immigrants, who still come here, legally, to make a better life.
The best of them ask nothing from our government. They don't want handouts. They want nothing more than the opportunity to work hard and make their own way. I have met many such fellows in Washington, D.C.
I know one, an Irishman, who came from a small Irish village to work in America as a butler. He married and started a family. To improve his income, he began selling insurance. By his 40th birthday, he had raised the capital to start his own highly successful Irish pub -- one that afforded him a fantastic living.
I knew two brothers from India, who owned a convenience store and sandwich shop. The older brother had been a professor at a technical school in his homeland, though his English was poor. Thus, when he made it to America, he had trouble finding similar work. He didn't complain. He took whatever job he could -- busboy, cook, janitor -- and saved every penny. He used his savings to bring his wife here, and then, one at a time, his five siblings.
He and his brother eventually saved enough to buy the convenience store, then a motel. He was in his late 50s when I met him. Both of his American-born sons were doctors. His property had soared in value over the years. He was offered $6 million for the land on which his convenience store sat. He still makes sandwiches every day.
I met another guy who had been born in Beirut, Lebanon, where his father had two businesses and his family was well off. Then, civil war tore their country apart. His family lived in a bombed-out building for three years before they were able to make their way to America. When he arrived, broke, he took a job as a janitor. His siblings took on menial work. The family saved $20,000 and used the money to open a bakery. He is now the president of a bakery that employs more than 150.
You see, the American Dream is alive and well-- just not so much among native-born Americans,who want some politician or government program to make their dream happen for them.
Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. E-mail Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.